Is there a Collective Christian Position? – Frederick Raven

Some say there is now no collective Christian position and that it is impossible for Christians rightly to break bread together in view of the public breakdown of the church.  However I think we can free from sectarian organisation.

 

I have heard it said that there is now no collective Christian position. I understand what they mean.  Some have though that it meant it was now impossible for Christians rightly to break bread together in view of the public breakdown of the church.  However I think we can free from sectarian organisation.

I believe that the Lord is reminding His own as to the subject of gathering.    A brother recently wrote to me, referring back to when he was ill in 1970 (a significant year for some readers).  He wrote:

“I was crying out to the Lord in pain, when the Lord came back to me with the rebuke, ‘You don’t really love me! all you love is ‘the assembly’, I am secondary to all you do!’ 

By putting ‘the assembly’ in quotes, I am sure he was referring to a religious body, not the body of Christ.  That challenged me: does my little round of meetings and the fellowship I enjoy mean more to me than the Lord Himself. Frederick Raven said he did not understand a ‘collective position’. Many resisted him then – maybe we would have been preserved from a lot of sorrow had we gotten the gain of his ministry since.  Here are a few extracts (slightly edited for sense) from a reading on the parables of the mustard tree and the leaven in Matthew 13:31-46 (1901) – See Ministry of F E Raven Vol 15 p 359).

 

F E Raven

Frederick Raven

The mustard tree conveys the idea of imperialism, the hierarchical system of things, a great conspicuous figure, which affords shelter; the leaven hid in the three measures of meal represents a great inflated mass leavened by corrupted doctrine.  When Christianity assumed a form and character which God never intended, it was morally a ruin.  The ruin has come in upon Christianity as a whole. I think everyone who takes a place outside the great world order is a witness to the ruin.  We must go on without any pretension, without any idea of what is called corporate witness, an ecclesiastical company in any sense.  We are in danger of becoming a tree: well let us say, a small tree.

 In reply to the remark ‘Our collective Christian position is a witness to the ruin’.  Raven answered. I do not understand a collective position.  I think our position is essentially individual. I cannot see any warrant for anything save what is individual in the present state of things.  Find ‘those that call upon the Lord out of a pure heart’ (2 Tim 2:22), I do not mind who: I am not recognising a company.  I cannot see any warrant for anything save what is individual in the present state of things.  Scripture says, ‘Two are better than one’ (Eccl 4:9).  If you get two people walking in righteousness they will naturally be drawn together. I should not recognise a company. If I were asked to what company I belong, I should say, “To none”.

 Abiding in Christ meets every difficulty.  The sad thing to me is, that I see a great number today who do not seem to be abiding in Christ. I do not say that they are not Christians, but the only antidote to lawlessness is abiding in Christ.

We break bread in view of all Christians; we cannot compass all in fact, but in our mind we take in all saints.  The moment we go out in thought to the whole church all is plain sailing.  A Christian who isolates himself is lawless.

When asked, ’Is there any company that can act with authority?”.  FER answered ‘No’. Then asked ‘How then can we deal with evil?’, ‘You do not go on with evil. We seek to act according to the truth.  As to putting away, I am a bit afraid of the collective idea. The only thing that can act with the authority of Christ is the church. However, two or three acting in Christ’s name is not really the church, only they are guided by the principle of the church.  ‘We being many are one body’ (Rom 12:5). I do not see any warrant for taking the place of a company; we stand apart from the organisation of Christendom.

My Conclusion

Perhaps we all need to be with the Lord and do a bit of rethinking.  I fear lest in leaving or rejecting the tenets of one company, we join or espouse the ideas of another.  Occupation with Christ is the only antidote.

 

Sosthenes

September 2019

 

 

Full Text of Reading

Following some criticism for ‘selectively quoting’ from FER, I am reproducing the whole reading.
See Ministry of F E Raven Vol 15 p 359).
Obtainable from Kingston Bible Trust
I do not believe that my extracts detract in any way from the whole reading

READING ON MATTHEW

Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.

Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.

All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them: That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world.

Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field. He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; and shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.

Matthew 13:31 – 46 (KJV) – Darby version on hyperlink

 

The Mustard Tree

Ques. In reference to the tree — is it the thought that the outward proportion is according to the inward corruption?

F.E.R. Yes; but I think you must distinguish between them. The leaven and the mustard tree are two different similitudes. One represents one thing, and the other represents another. The tree conveys the idea of imperialism, a great conspicuous figure, which affords shelter. On the other hand, the leaven hid in the three measures of meal represents a great inflated mass leavened by corrupted doctrine — they are two distinct figures.

Rem. The mustard tree represents the hierarchical system of things.

F.E.R. Yes, it becomes conspicuous in the world, ruling over the kings of the earth. The harlot will ride the beast. That is imperialism. The three measures of meal leavened represent a great inflated mass.

Rem. Permeating a given sphere.

F.E.R. Exactly.

Ques. Do you get the end of those two views in Revelation 17 and 18?

F.E.R. I should think what you get in Revelation is more the mustard tree. It is the great city Babylon that rules over the kings of the earth.

Ques. Does the apostle speak of leaven in 2 Timothy 3 where he gives a moral description of the last days? Does that give the idea of leaven?

 

The Adaptation of Christianity to Man

F.E.R. Not quite to my mind. I think leaven is very much more what is human. It is the adaptation of Christianity to man. Everything is humanised.

Rem. That is the point — Christianity adapted to human ideas.

Ques. Is it what is spoken of in Colossians 2?

F.E.R. Yes, that is it. “After the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world”.

Rem. “They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world hears them”.

F.E.R. What is our place in regard of all these things? We have a perception of them, and are professedly apart from them, but I do not know whether we are apart from them morally, and I fear in many minds there is a kind of hankering after them. What was said at the beginning was that if you stand outside these things, as recognising the character of them, you are a witness to the ruin. It is a poor kind of thing to be a witness to the ruin, but that is pretty much where we are. I do not know how far it is understood.

Rem. That is what was before me, that we might see how far we are sensible of the ruin and outside of it. The mustard tree is the ruin.

Ques. This is a picture of the ruin of what?

Rem. It is the ruin of the kingdom of heaven that is spoken of here. The mustard tree is the ruin.

 

The Church and the Kingdom of Heaven

Ques. Do you distinguish between the church and the kingdom of heaven?

Rem. I do; but in bringing in the kingdom the church comes into view. The mustard tree is a great hierarchical system which Christ never intended the church to be.

Rem. It is the product of a false kingdom instead of the true. Babylon is a false system.

Rem. You get the beginning of it in 1 Corinthians. “Ye have reigned as kings without us”.

F.E.R. It is worth while to know what is in our minds when we speak about the ruin. When christianity assumed a form and character which God never intended, it was morally a ruin. God never intended that there should be clergy and sacramentalism and all that sort of thing; but that is the form that christianity has taken to a very large extent.

Ques. When we speak of the ruin, do we not think rather more of it in connection with a house than a tree? You would say that the house has broken down.

F.E.R. I do not know that I should say that. I think Christianity has.

Rem. Christianity was really intended to produce a moral witness for Christ here, and in that sense it has failed.

Ques. Does the failure embrace both the kingdom and the church phase of things?

F.E.R. I think the ruin has come in upon Christianity as a whole. I think every one who takes a place outside the great world order is a witness to the ruin.

Ques. Are you not a witness to what cannot be touched by ruin? Was not Paul?

F.E.R. You are not qualified to be a witness to the ruin if you are not up to the mark.

Rem. Our collective position is a witness to the ruin.

 

I do not understand a Collective Position.

F.E.R. I do not understand a collective position.

Ques. “With those that call upon the Lord out of a pure heart”, does not that imply a company?

F.E.R. I do not mind who it is: it is anybody who calls on the Lord out of a pure heart.

Ques. What was in your mind when you said that you do not understand a collective position?

F.E.R. I think our position is essentially individual. I cannot see any warrant for anything save what is individual in the present state of things.

Rem. But Scripture says, “Two are better than one”.

F.E.R. I agree to that. I cannot see how we can be a witness to the ruin if we are lawless. A lawless man cannot be a witness to the ruin, he is in the ruin. If you get two people walking in righteousness they will naturally be drawn together.

 

‘Our Fellowship’

Rem. A good deal has been said about our fellowship.

Rem. I think that means christian fellowship.

Ques. I often hear the expression, ‘So-and-so is not in our fellowship’. If we use such terms, what is meant?

F.E.R. I should suppose that what is meant is that So-and-so is not walking in the truth. If a man is going on in Bethesda, I should not say that that man is really in the fellowship of the truth.

Rem. I have heard you say that the only warrant for our going on together in fellowship is in that passage in 2 Timothy: “follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart”.

F.E.R. Quite so. It is the only warrant I know for it.

Rem. Then we must go on without any pretension, or without any idea of what is called corporate witness.

Rem. What you mean is that we cannot claim to be an ecclesiastical company in any sense.

Rem. We are in danger of becoming a tree.

F.E.R. Well, a small tree.

Rem. I suppose we cannot help walking together if we are each walking in the truth.

F.E.R. I do not mind at all if the truth is the bond. There are, I fear, a great many in fellowship with us who look upon brethren as an association, or something of the kind, on scriptural lines, and they are borne along with it.

Rem. I suppose it is that you really stand aside and through grace wait for Christ, and if there are any others waiting they are glad to break bread with you; not forming anything.

F.E.R. Quite so.

Romanism and Protestantism

Rem. I do not see in the seven churches that anything is under the eye of Christ but Romanism and Protestantism — Thyatira and Sardis; all the sects, and so on, are not anything under the eye of Christ, they are all part of Protestantism. It is Romanism on the one hand and Protestantism on the other.

Ques. What about Laodicea?

Rem. That is part of Protestantism.

Ques. What of Philadelphia?

Rem. That is also part of Protestantism.

Rem. Do you think these parables have any connection with the previous part of the gospel — the tree and the fruit — and the tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is cut down? I thought of Christ as the green tree. He was removed. The trees of the earth were cut down because of the evil in them.

F.E.R. I think the fig tree has been cut down for good; but the fig tree represents man under culture, and it is cursed.

Rem. The tree that is spoken of here is not in connection with fruit good or bad. It is connected with shade and overshadowing.

Ques. When you speak of ‘individual’, is there not such a thing as the unity of the Spirit?

F.E.R. Yes; but if you are a witness to the ruin, you do everything right, else you are no witness. If you are lawless you are involved in the ruin. The mystery of lawlessness already works, and it is only as we are apart from it that we are a witness to the ruin.

Ques. Is there any company that can act with authority?

F.E.R. No.

How can we deal with Evil?

Ques. How then can we deal with evil?

F.E.R. You do not go on with it. There is no need to go on with evil.

Ques. Are we to look for “faithful men” today?

F.E.R. Yes, I think so. I think we seek to act according to the truth.

Rem. It has often been said that it is only the assembly that can put away.

F.E.R. I am a bit afraid of the collective idea. The meaning of putting away is to get apart from evil. I think the only thing that can act with the authority of Christ is the church. I do not think two or three acting in Christ’s name is really the church, only they are guided by the principle of the church.

Ques. If you went into a place you would try to find those who are calling on the Lord out of a pure heart?

“I should not recognise a company. If I were asked to what company I belong, I should say,’ To none’.”

F.E.R. Yes, certainly; but I should not recognise a company. If I were asked to what company I belong, I should say, To none.

Ques. Would you address a letter of commendation to the saints?

F.E.R. Yes; but it is not because I recognise a company, but because I know there are saints there who call upon the Lord with a pure heart; but those few saints are not the church.

Ques. What is it if it is not a company?

F.E.R. A sort of two or three held together by the truth. In acting we can only act in the light of the church.

Ques. Would the expression “Tell it to the assembly” hold good now?

F.E.R. The principle of it would, but I think we are in danger of getting into an organisation. We have lists of meetings or address books.

Ques. When you speak of a company you are using the word in a sense of an ecclesiastical company?

F.E.R. Yes. People do their best to force us into some ecclesiastical position. Brethren are not an addition to the system around us; it is the very thing we have to contend against. I do not see any warrant for standing apart from what is in christendom, but in seeing that it is not according to God, and this is individual.

Ques. How would leaven affect us now?

F.E.R. You will find in christendom that the precepts of christianity are very largely adapted to man as man. Men can take up an official position as men. For a clergyman it is not necessary that a man should be converted. I have no doubt that a great part of the world is largely affected by the precepts which you get in the epistles, but they are applied to man as man.

Ques. We have heard recently that many have taken the path without faith in it; is that what is in your mind to guard against?

F.E.R. Yes; if people take account of brethren as a company, and attach themselves to them as such, there is no faith for the path, and they are hanging on some one else. I do not know what the end of it will be. We are, I fear, dragging on a lot of unwilling people.

Ques. What about young people who desire to take their place to remember the Lord? May they not be instructed?

F.E.R. Yes; but they not only want instruction but faith for the path.

Rem. Abiding in Christ meets every difficulty.

F.E.R. The sad thing to me is, that I see a great number today who do not seem to be abiding in Christ. I do not say that they are not christians, but they are in measure lawless. The only antidote to lawlessness is abiding in Christ.

Ques. What is our warrant for breaking bread at all if you get rid of the company idea?

“We want to walk in the light of the church”

F.E.R. If you do not act in the light of the Lord, you are lawless. We want to walk in the light of the church. The moment we go out in thought to the whole church all is plain sailing. If a christian isolates himself he is lawless; but we want to keep ourselves and our own minds clear of the company idea.

Rem. There is a sense in which you can look at the company by taking in all saints.

F.E.R. Yes, you are on plain ground then.

Rem. You would have a great objection to a christian isolating himself.

F.E.R. Yes, I think he is lawless.

Ques. Does not breaking bread give the thought of a company?

F.E.R. I break bread in thinking of the entire company.

Rem. The one loaf takes in the whole of the saints.

F.E.R. Yes. In mind you take in all saints, and you break bread in view of all christians; we cannot compass all in fact, but in our mind we take in all saints.

Rem. You take in in your mind what is in God’s mind.

F.E.R. Yes, exactly. “We being many are one body”. I do not see any warrant for taking the place of a company; we stand apart from the organisation of christendom.

Rem. The use of the word ‘company’ involves in many minds the idea of some kind of corporation.

Rem. The brethren.

F.E.R. Yes. The great point is that we must each individually be in faith. I take myself as an example; if any one challenged me as to what I belong to in christendom I should say, ‘To nothing’. It would not be a quibble in my mind.

Rem. 2 Timothy is a great book for us now. It shews a clear path. Follow first righteousness, then faith, then love.

F.E.R. Yes; but it is with those who call, &c.

Calling on the Lord out of a pure Heart is Individual

Rem. It would be unbecoming for any company of christians to claim that they were calling on the Lord out of a pure heart.

F.E.R. Yes, the individual does that.

Ques. When you speak of a company, would not that imply every one forming that company?

Rem. It is very difficult to convey an idea of what it is to others. It is inexplicable to people outside.

F.E.R. I am not considering what they think, but what is in my own mind. My point is as to where we are in regard of these things in our own minds. I believe the thought in a great many minds is that brethren are a company in christendom gathered together on scriptural ideas.

Rem. You would refuse their putting you in a false position.

F.E.R. I am anxious to be out of a false position in my own mind. I have no doubt the position is an exceedingly difficult one.

Ques. When we use the plural number, ‘we’ and ‘us’, ought we not to take in in our minds the whole church?

F.E.R. Yes, I think so. The point with regard to it all is the idea that people have in their minds of the position taken up, and of our relation to all that is going on.

Ques. Did not all this come out some years ago in Fragmentary Remarks?

F.E.R. I am quite sure all this was in Mr. Darby’s mind. No one was more averse to anything like organisation than he was. The very fact that any one of us is seeking to pursue the truth of necessity brings us together for the moment; but there can be no collective witness to the ruin; it is individual.

Rem. Mr. Darby maintained that we were only two or three, and if we were a witness to anything we were a witness to the ruin.

Rem. You are a witness to the ruin by abiding in Christ rather than by taking pains to let people know whom you are associated with.

F.E.R. I think so. I want to see an end of lawlessness amongst those with whom we are associated. If we were abiding in Christ we should stand clear of a great many things we are now associated with. I see many people in fellowship who assent to the truth, but who are not governed by the truth. Do you think if people were abiding in Christ, they would be found in picture galleries? Is that suitable to abiding in Christ? If you are not abiding in Christ, you are sure to be lawless.

Ques. How is this difficulty to be met with regard to those who seek for help?

 

Faith for the Path

F.E.R. The difficulty is, there are people who have not faith for the path.

Ques. What do you mean by faith for the path?

F.E.R. Take Moses. Moses had every opportunity in the world, but he had faith for a path. If people have faith for the path they will be prepared for self-abnegation. If they want to get the best of both worlds, to get the things of this world as well as the things of Christ, they will not be much good. It is not that we make a company, but our bond is the truth. What we want to know more of is living down here in relation to the One in heaven. I defy anybody to find any antidote at all to lawlessness excepting abiding in Christ. It certainly means the entire setting aside of our own will.

Ques. Do I get a right impression that the only thing for us is for the truth of God to be made good in our souls individually?

F.E.R. Yes.

Ques. What would you say abiding in Christ is?

F.E.R. It is like the earth abiding in the sun. It is coming under the influence of Christ; you are held by attraction to Christ.

Rem. If we are walking in the Spirit, we shall be abiding in Christ.

F.E.R. I think the whole universe will abide in Christ, and that is how God intends to set lawlessness aside. In the meantime we abide in Christ and He in us. I do not think Christ will abide in you if you do not abide in Him. If Christ is your Head Christ is your intelligence, and you view everything according to Him. Christ in the gospels never viewed anything according to man. Man’s thoughts were continually presented to Him, but He never viewed anything according to man. We have the mind of Christ, and we view everything in relation to Christ and not to ourselves.

Rem. I remember a brother saying that practical christianity may be summed up in two expressions: the sum of the Spirit’s teaching is abide in Christ, and the sum of Christ’s teaching is “Love one another”.

Rem. I suppose if two persons were abiding in Christ they would be loving one another, and there would be unity?

F.E.R. I think so. The true principle is — “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another”. We cannot get out of that — “We have fellowship one with another”.

Our Collective Testimony from F E Raven

Last Lord’s Day the Lord took our brother Mark Lemon of Sevenoaks to be with Himself.  Many readers will have known Mark, not least as editor of the magazine ‘Living Water’, and also for managing the Stone Publishing Trust, a distributor of bibles, tracts and current and old ministry.  I knew Mark for over 60 years:  he was a very dear brother for whom I have had much affection and esteem, who served the Lord well.  He will be sorely missed by his dear wife Monica (they celebrated their golden wedding recently), the gathering in Sevenoaks and many throughout the world who received encouragement from him.

Handing on the Torch

In 1994 Mark Lemon compiled a book entitled ‘Handing on the Torch[i]’ comprising extracts from the Ministry of F E Raven.  I know some readers of A Day of Small Things have problems with certain aspects of F E Raven’s ministry, and I do not want to get into a discussion about other subjects here. I just ask my readers to consider without prejudice some of the things he said as to the church and collective Christian experience.  He was very much set against claiming positions – something that brought him into conflict with big-B Brethren.

Some Selections from Mark’s Book.

Here are some selections from Mark’s book.

Frederick Raven

The church is in ruins; and I am sure we ought to be more under the burden of this than we are. I have felt how little sense I have of the defection of the church, of how far the church is from the mind of God in regard to it. . . . The fact is we have had far too much in our thoughts the idea of setting up an expression of the original, and have been pretty much contented with it. That means that we are losing sight of the ruin of the church. From F E Raven: Fellowship, Privilege and Testimony[ii]

The tendency with man, if he has any sense of the failure of the church, is to begin again, to try and set up a sort of pattern of what the church originally was. It has been said that if we are a testimony to anything it is to the ruin of the church, but people do not quite like that, they want to be ‘a local expression’ of something. . . . If you have apprehended the ruin you can stand apart from what is contrary to the Lord, and be guided by the light which was from the beginning, without making any pretension to ecclesiastical order.  F E Raven: Notes of Readings on Romans – Chapter 8[iii]

We cannot return to the power, to that which was at the beginning; but even in recognising that the Holy Spirit is still here, we get great good. The remnant in Malachi could not go back to the Solomon state of things. If Christianity could be set up as at the beginning, it would only fail again. It is a great assumption to imagine that we can set up a representation of the church, From ‘The Divine Side of “in Christ” and its Effect in the Saints’[iv]

I decline altogether the idea of attaching any peculiar value to a particular company because that company holds something distinctive. The only value of any company in the present dispensation is that they return to what was from the outset; that is that they represent morally the church as before Christ.   From The Holy City Jerusalem[v]

If you ask me what Christianity really is, I should say it is Christ formed in the saints by the Spirit. It is not holding a certain system of doctrine.  . . .  I cannot conceive of anything more wonderful than to be able to say that the spiritual constitution of the believer is really derived from the heavenly, so that it can really be said,‘As is the heavenly, such are they also which are heavenly’. From The Last Adam[vi]

 

Conclusions

From the above, there are a number of significant points.

  1. The church is in ruins and we are to feel our own part in it.
  2. We cannot correct it by setting up a new representation as to what was from the beginning (I personally have recently got help as to this one)
  3. If we did it would fail again, and we would fall back into sectarianism with its structure and formality
  4. We should not claim to have anything distinctive, setting us apart from other believers
  5. We need to recognise that we derive from what is heavenly, so our gathering should reflect that.

Increasingly, I have come to the conclusion that, if the Lord has, in His goodness and wisdom has put a few simple believers together enjoying assembly privilege, they are to reflect Christians in testimony, valuing all believers equally.  As the Lord said, ‘By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another’John 13:35

 

Affectionately in our Lord

Daniel Roberts (a.k.a Sosthenes)

 

 

[i]Available from Stone Publishing Trust, or Bibles Etc,

[ii]Ministry of F E Raven Vol 1 page61, available from Kingston Bible Trust

[iii]Ministry of F E Raven Vol 9 page 449, available from Kingston Bible Trust

[iv]Ministry of F E Raven Vol 14 page 248, available from Kingston Bible Trust

[v]Ministry of F E Raven Vol 8 page 149, available from Kingston Bible Trust

[vi]Ministry of F E Raven vol 19 page 55, available from Kingston Bible Trust

J N Darby Simplified – The Body of Christ (the Assembly here) and the House of God (Christian Profession)

A clear view of the way the church is presented:

The body according to the purpose and work of God, its members quickened with Christ, raised up and sitting in heavenly places in Him.
The body manifested on the earth by the baptism of the Holy Spirit (not water), outwardly expressed by union in partaking of the Lord’s supper.
The spiritual house in the thought and purpose of God, built on the foundation of apostles and prophets of the New Testament, growing up a holy temple to the Lord.

 

The Body of Christ (the Assembly here) and the House of God (Christian Profession)

Based on a Paper by J N Darby – ‘The House of God; the Body of Christ; and the Baptism of the Holy Ghost.

JND Collected Writings Volume 14 (Ecclesiastical 3) p15 –74

 

J N Darby

Throughout Christendom, in both Roman Catholic and Protestant circles, there is confusion as to the difference between the house of God and the body of Christ.  The error that is rampant throughout Christendom, is that these two things are regarded as essentially the same, and that membership of a church gives a person all the privileges and blessings of Christianity.

We have to distinguish between:

 

  • The Body of Christ This comprises living members on earth, born of God, quickened of the Spirit, with all their sins forgiven. They have been perfected by one offering and are heirs of the inheritance of glory.
  • The House of God, a more general concept, encompassing the whole Christian environment or profession. Many are brought into it by birth.

 

If the house and the body were the same thing, all persons attending a church, adults or infants, believers and unbelievers, would be regarded as saved and members of the body of Christ.   There would be no value in the death of Christ or the gift of the Holy Spirit.

 

The Assembly or Body of Christ

In the New Testament we have the word ἐκκλησία/ekklésia/Strong 1577  This is translated as ‘church’ in the King James Bible, and in most other modern English translations.  In our minds when people use the word ‘church’ they would think of a physical building, or a particular denomination.  Calling a physical church building a ‘house of God’ adds to the confusion.

It is for this reason that J N Darby preferred to use the word ‘assembly’- (see Matt 16:18 Darby Version).  This is a more literal rendering of the Greek word (ἐκ-κλησία/ek-klésia = out-called = a-sembled).  Where two or three are gathered together in Christ’s name, He is in their midst – that is the true church.   Darby noted that the rendering was better in other languages, the word in German, Gemeinde, the word normally used for ‘community’.  The French église, and Welsh eglwys come directly from the Greek.

He also noted the words used in the Old Testament.

  • Qe-hal or kahal (Strong 6951)– congregation or assemblage – Strong uses convocation (See 2 Chron 30:25)
  • Mo-w-ed or moed (Strong 4150) – the appointed place of meeting where they met God (See Ex 33:7)
  • Ha-ed-ah or hedah (Strong 5712) – congregation or assembly – a company formed together by appointment (See Ex 12:3)

Israel was the assembly of God, but having rejected the Messiah, it is set aside, we might say, by the death of Christ.  Israel failed in its witness of the unity of the Godhead, by the adoption of idolatry.  So when the Lord Jesus came, Israel as a nation failed to recognise God’s visitation, and rejected Him.

From the time of the prophets onwards, God has always had a remnant of Israel who were devoted to Him.  Prophecy looked forward to a remnant which would be preserved and brought back in the last days.

In Psalm 22 we have the Lord’s death as seen by the remnant (the seed that would serve Him v. 30).  The Lord was to be been forsaken, and then heard of God – answereed from the horns of the buffaloes (or unicorns) (v. 21). The response is ‘I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation [kahal] will I praise thee (v. 22).  This corresponds to Lord declaring to Mary Magdalen, ‘Go to my brethren and say to them, I ascend to my Father and your Father, and [to] my God and your God’. (John 20:17).  What delight God has is in the value of His sacrifice when sin is put away.

In Matthew 16:19, Peter is given the keys the keys of the kingdom of heaven: he is not given the keys for the church (assembly).  The church has no keys.   Neither Matthew nor Peter give us teaching as to the assembly.  We have the house – Peter, in his epistle says, ‘Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ’ (1 Peter 2:5).

For teaching as to the assembly we have to come to Paul: ‘The Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God (Col 2:19).  Whereas Peter sees things here, Paul sees the centre in heaven, where the Head is now.

When the Holy Spirit came, we have many Jews converted – 3000 in one day.  Soon after in Acts, we have the introduction of the Samaritans, and then the Gentiles.   Christians were persecuted, culminating in their rejection of Stephen’s testimony to Christ in heaven, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God’ (Acts 7:56). Paul is converted having witnessed Stephen’s martyrdom and testimony, and in what the Lord said to him from heaven, ‘I am Jesus whom thou persecutest’ (Acts 9:5).   Thus Paul received the light of the living body united to the Head in heaven, and us seated in the heavenly places in Christ (see Ephesians 1:20).  Paul also showed that the body comprised living members, all fitted together perfectly – no dead members, and not a mutilated body.  That is the body of Christ here.

 

The Church in a Scene of Responsibility Here

Israel had failed in responsibility: now we see the Church in responsibility now.  It is important to see that the house has been is established, because in the house there can be failure even to apostasy.   On the other hand, the assembly cannot fail, because Christ is ‘head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all’ (Ephesians 1:22-23).  As Head over all things to the assembly Christ, the glorious Man, is Prophet, Priest and King.  Whereas man had failed, you have Christ such perfection that He will be ‘glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe’ (2 Thessalonians 1:10).

In Ephesians 1:1 to 2:10, we have the assembly according to the purpose and counsel of God, There is no dependence on man.  Paul’s prayer was ‘That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, (Ephesians 1:17-20).

From Ephesians 2:11 we have the actual condition down here.  It is being built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ being the cornerstone, and what is being built is  the dwelling place of God through the Spirit. In Ephesiuans Paul refers much to the mystery, and it can be seen in the church livingly here.  Augustine spoke of an invisible church, and this is still referred to, but this is not invisible.  There is the outward manifestation of the church its unity, recognition of the work of the Spirit of God on earth.  We see it in the gifts (apostles, prophets, teachers) which have been given in the whole (not the local) assembly.  They are placed in the assembly, on earth, among ‘them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints  (1 Corinthians 1:2).

The Assembly as God’s Habitation

The second aspect of the assembly in Ephesus is a dispensational one.   Christ builds an assembly secured from Satan’s power.  We have the assembly according to the councils of God God workmanship in an ordered condition – not as what it has become was in the hands of man.  We have in Ephesians ch 1-2, facts rather than opinions – Jews and Gentiles made nigh by the blood of Christ, the middle wall of partition broken down, and all reconciled into one body by the cross, and formed together growing to a holy temple in the Lord.  This is a work going on in grace on earth – God’s habitation by the Spirit.   It does not say that God animates and unites believers, but He has a place where He dwells. Unity will result.

In chapter 4 we are told walk in love, worthy of the calling, and to use diligence to keep the unity.   We are given the unity from God’s point of view ‘There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all’  (Ch 4:4-6).   This is not the view according to man’s responsibility that we get in 1 Corinthians 3:12.  There you get what is being built on the good foundation  – good things – gold, silver, precious stones, and worthless things – wood, hay, stubble.  All man’s bad building will be lost.  In 2 Timothy 2, we get the great house – with vessels to honour and dishonour also those professing Christians with the form of godliness but denying its power. The true believer to is to purge himself (or turn away), from these and follow righteousness, faith, love, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.  (see 2 Tim 2:21-22 and 3:5).

After the rapture the apostate church will remain, led by the man of sin.

 

Summary

In summary, these scriptures referred to give us a clear view of the way the church is presented:

  1. The body according to the purpose and work of God, its members quickened with Christ, raised up and sitting in heavenly places in Him.
  2. The body manifested on the earth by the baptism of the Holy Spirit (not water), outwardly expressed by union in partaking of the Lord’s supper.
  3. The spiritual house in the thought and purpose of God, built on the foundation of apostles and prophets of the New Testament, growing up a holy temple to the Lord.
  4. The building of this house in fact by the labours of man. Paul might have been the wise master-builder; but there were others not building with good materials.
  5. The great house with vessels to dishonour to purify themselves and turn away.
  6. Finally, after the rapture, the actual apostasy ending in judgment.

 

What Church Leaders have Taught

In the subsequent thirty pages of the paper, J N Darby looks at the writings of the various church fathers starting just after the apostolic period (Barnabas, Clement etc) up till the eighteenth century – Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox.  If you wish to read this in detail, it is in the original article, starting at page 39.

 

Here is a Summary of happenings in the Great House:

In short, almost nobody saw the assembly in its heavenly character according to the purpose of God.  This was because most walked by sight.  Water baptism became the method of entry, this being held by most.  And the house of God was taken to be he physical building.  Many considered being a member of the church as being the same as salvation.  They acquiesced in evil, quoting the parable of the wheat and the tares – God would have it all right in the end.  Priests became mediators.  That was supposed to be Christianity!

 

Sosthenes

January 2018

The Jews and the Church

The idea of a church transcending dispensations is false.  There was no collective expression of faith until the establishment of the Jewish nation, and persons were in that by birth and not faith.  It was not faith that united the Jews, it was their descent from Jacob.   Now we see this idea being introduced into Christianity,  Salvation is not the Church, nor the Church salvation. 

An expression that was current in Mr Darby’s time was ‘Jewish church’.  I googled the expression, and the only relevant information was on Jews in the church.  So whilst the error is not widespread now (except in the way that public Christianity has been judaised), a short paraphrase of part of Darby’s paper on ‘Law’ would be useful.

Start with the truth.  The Church, the body of believers, never existed till the Holy Spirit came forty days after Christ’s ascension.  It could not exist till its Head, had been exalted as Man having accomplished redemption. When exalted, God ‘gave Him to be Head over all things to the Church, the fulness of Him who filleth all in all’. (Eph 1:22-23.)   He has made both [Jew and gentile] into one new man, a habitation of God in the Spirit (see Eph 2:14-22).  Only now is the church known to the principalities and powers [i.e. angels][*] and they see the manifold wisdom of God.  Before then, men were not built together for a habitation of God through the Spirit.  The entity did not exist.

The idea of a church transcending dispensations is false.  There was no collective expression of faith until the establishment of the Jewish nation, and persons were in that by birth and not faith.  It was not faith that united the Jews, it was their descent from Jacob.  Physical circumcision was the witness to a (male) person’s position.  Now we see this idea being introduced into Christianity, with baptism replacing circumcision.   Salvation is not the Church, nor the Church salvation.  Conscience, faith and consequently salvation and sonship are all individual.  The church is formed of those who have been saved, those with faith.  They are baptised by one Spirit into one body.  ‘The Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved’ (Acts 2:47).  That is how the church started.

Original Article ‘Law’ – Collected Writings Vol 10 Doctrinal 3 p1

[*] [xxx] signifies my clarification

What did John Nelson Darby and the Brethren hold?

Darby and the brethren held to all the fundamentals of the Christian faith:

There is one God, eternally blessed – Father, Son and Holy Spirit,.
The Lord Jesus was and is human and divine. He was born of a virgin and was raised from the dead and is now glorified at the right hand of God.
The Holy Spirit, having descended on the day of Pentecost, dwells in believers who are waiting for the promised return of the Lord Jesus.
The Father in His love has sent the Son to accomplish the work of redemption and grace towards men. Jesus, the Son, finished the work on earth which the Father gave Him to do. He made propitiation for our sins, and ascended into heaven. Now He is the great High Priest, seated at the right hand of the Majesty on high.
As to the brethren, nobody would be received into fellowship who denied any of these fundamental truths, and any who undermined them would be excommunicated. They are essential to living faith and salvation, and to the life which all Christians live as born of God.

 

lefrancaisA summary by Sosthenes of a letter entitled ‘ A letter to the Editor of Le Français’ – published in J N D’s letters Volume 2 page 431.

In 1878 the editor of ‘Le Français’, a catholic newspaper wrote to J N Darby asking him about what he and the brethren held.  Although he did not like writing articles for newspapers, believing that they were not compatible with the Christian’s heavenly calling, Darby said, ‘I have given him in all simplicity what he asked for. He avowed himself a Catholic and devoted to Catholicism. His letter was simple and honest: I replied to him as Christian.’

 

A summary of his reply:

Darby and the brethren held to all the fundamentals of the Christian faith:

  1. There is one God, eternally blessed – Father, Son and Holy Spirit,.
  2. The Lord Jesus was and is human and divine. He was born of a virgin and was raised from the dead and is now glorified at the right hand of God.
  3. The Holy Spirit, having descended on the day of Pentecost, dwells in believers who are waiting for the promised return of the Lord Jesus.
  4. The Father in His love has sent the Son to accomplish the work of redemption and grace towards men. Jesus, the Son, finished the work on earth which the Father gave Him to do.  He made propitiation for our sins, and ascended into heaven.  Now He is the great High Priest, seated at the right hand of the Majesty on high.

As to the brethren, nobody would be received into fellowship who denied any of these fundamental truths, and any who undermined them would be excommunicated.  They are essential to living faith and salvation, and to the life which all Christians live as born of God.

 

Darby’s early Christian Days

After John Darby was converted he spent six or seven years under the rod of the law, feeling that although Christ was his Saviour he did not possess Him, or that he was fully saved by Him.  He fasted, prayed and gave alms, but did not have peace.  He felt that if the Son of God had Himself forgiven him, he owed Him his body, soul and means.

At length God gave him to understand that he was in Christ, united to Him by the Holy Spirit.  Though he had always accepted that the word of God was the absolute authority as to faith and practice, God had now implanted in his heart the conviction of it.  Scriptures which bore on that were:

  • At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you’ (John 14:20)
  • He that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit’ (1 Cor 6:17)
  • Your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost who is in you’ (1 Cor 6:19)
  • There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus’ (Rom 8:1)
  • I will come again and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also’ (John 14:3)
  • Having believed, ye have been sealed for the day of redemption’ (Eph 1:13)
  • For by one Spirit are we all baptised into one body’ (1 Cor 12:13)
  • Even when we were dead in sins, [he] hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved)’ ( 2:5)
  • Our citizenship is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour, who shall transform our body of humiliation into conformity to his body of glory’ (Phil 3:20-21)

From the above scriptures he deduced that the Holy Spirit has given us as believers the full assurance of salvation.  We have been set apart from this world, sealed to do God’s will here.  We are citizens of another world, awaiting the return of our Lord and Saviour.

 

The body of Christ is composed of those who are united by the Holy Spirit to the Head – Christ in heaven.  We are seated in the heavenly places in Christ, and are already there in spirit, just waiting to be actually place us up there, our bodies changed.

 

The Public Church

This brings us to the thought of the church and of its unity.

Let us look around we see how far we as Christians have got from what God had set up on the earth.  Where is the church?   Darby said that he gave up Anglicanism as not being it. In his early days he had been attracted to Rome.  But then he realised that the idea of a sacrificing priesthood down here was inconsistent with Heb 10:14-18  ‘For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. . . . Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin’.  As a result of the work of Christ, we have direct access to God in all confidence. ‘Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus.’ (Heb. 10:19).  Rome pretended to be the whole, but that excluded half or more of Christendom.  Protestant sects were divided amongst themselves – unity was not possible.  In fact, most of those who call themselves Christians are of the world, just as much as a pagan might be.

 

The Fall of the early Church

 

The church was formed on the earth at the descent of the Holy Spirit.  It ought always to have been clearly identifiable, as something distinct, separate from the world.  Alas this has not been the case.  The Lord foresaw this: ‘The wolf catcheth them and scattereth the sheep’ (John 10:12) but, thank God the same faithful Shepherd also said,  ‘No one shall catch them out of my hand’ (v.28).

The apostle Paul, bidding farewell to the faithful of Asia, said, ‘I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock, and of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.’ (Acts 20:29-30).  Moreover, Jude noted that deceitful men had crept in among the Christians, ‘Certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men’ (Jude v.4).  This would lead to apostasy, those inside the public confession entirely abandoning the Christian faith. ‘There are there many antichrists: whereby we know that it is the last time. hey went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us’ (1 John 2:18-19).

 

What the Faithful should understand

Paul tells us, ‘Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of the Lord depart from iniquity. But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel to honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work (2 Tim 2:19-21).

The public church is a great house with vessels of all kinds: a call comes to the faithful man to purify himself from the vessels to dishonour.  In the next chapter he speaks of perilous times.  Men will be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud etc., but also ‘Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof’ (2 Tim 3:5).  They were evidently in the professing church, not pagans as in Romans 1.  And it goes on, ‘All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse’ (2 Tim. 3:12, 13); but true believers have assurance through the scriptures, given by inspiration of God, making them wise to salvation, by the faith which is in Christ Jesus.

At the beginning, ‘the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved’ (Acts 2:47)  Soon false brethren crept in, tares were sown, the house was filled with unholy vessels, from which the faithful were to purge themselves, persons with a form of godliness without power, from which the faithful were to turn away.

Evil in the church continued.  ‘The mystery of iniquity doth already work’ (2 Thess 2:7). The wicked would be destroyed by the brightness of His coming.  Elsewhere the Lord speaks of the good grain and the tares growing together until the harvest (See Matt 13:24-30).  We must distinguish between the work of Christ, and what is done by men – heresies and schisms.

However, the gates of hell are not to prevail against that which Christ has built. The enemy will never destroy what Christ has built (the church of God).  That is the house made of living stones, and the holy temple in the Lord (See 1 Peter 2:5 and Eph 2:21.  Alongside all that, the Word declares that where two or three are gathered to the name of Jesus, He would be in their midst. (See Matt 18:20).

 

The early Brethren

This is what Darby recognised.  Initially only four met together, not in a spirit of pride or presumption, but deeply grieved at seeing the state of that which surrounded them, and praying earnestly about it. Darby said they were not thinking of forming a new sect.  Indeed, they did not believe that the thing would have gone any further. They were just satisfying the need of their souls according to the word of God and found the promised presence of the Lord.

Independently following the same road, the work extended in a way they did not expect – in the British Isles, France, Switzerland, Germany, Holland, Denmark, Sweden, and on through the rest of Europe, the British Colonies, the United States, Asia, Africa, and elsewhere.  As the gospel was preached, the Spirit of God acted, and produced soul yearnings that the established religious systems could not meet.

Those brethren rested on the authority of the word of God.  They saw our Saviour:

  • first as accomplishing redemption on the cross,
  • then as seated at the Father’s right hand, the Holy Ghost being down here,
  • and finally, as coming back to take His own to be with Himself.

These Christians had the full assurance of their salvation  They had faith in the efficacy of Christ’s redemption, and being sealed with the Holy Spirit, they were waiting for the Son of God to come from heaven without knowing when it would happen.  Bought with a great price, they felt bound to regard themselves as no longer belonging to themselves, but to please the Lord Jesus in everything, and to live only for Him.

 

The Brethren’s Walk

Whilst Darby had to admit that not all the brethren walked at the full height of the heavenly calling, they acknowledged the obligation to do so.  Brethren walked in a morally right way, excluding any who held heresy or engaged in immorality.  They abstained from the pleasures and amusements of the world.   Evening parties would be occasions of encouraging one another and discussing the word.  Brethren did not vote or get involved in politics.  They submitted to the established authorities, whatever they may be, so long as they were not called upon to act contrary to the will of Christ.  They took the Lord’s supper every Sunday, and those who had gift, taught from the scriptures and preached the gospel of salvation to sinners.  Everyone felt bound to seek the salvation or good of his or her neighbour, as they were able. Feeling that Christendom was corrupt, they were not of the church-world.

Asked as to how many such believers followed this course, Darby had no idea.  Brethren did not number themselves, wishing to remain in the littleness which becomes Christians. In any case, they reckoned as a brother or sister in Christ every person who had the Spirit of Christ.

 

Conclusion

What is the advantage of this course?  We acknowledge Christ as the Son of God and  know that we have been saved by Him.  In obeying Him, in spite of our weakness, faults and failures, we have as an indescribable source of joy.  Looking ahead, we have an earnest or advance of eternal happiness, with no failures, where our Lord will be fully glorified in all believers.

Sosthenes

November 2016

 

Confusion as to the Church – – The House and the Body

People confuse what Christ builds with what man builds, physically and metaphorically. Christ said to Peter in Matthew 16:18 that He would build the Church and that the gates of hell (Satan’s deadly power) would not prevail against it. Resurrection was the proof of that. Peter’s confession, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God’ (v. 16), was the rock on which Christ would build his church. Peter was the first stone in importance, but he was not the builder.

 

Based J. N. Darby: The Church – the House and the Body – Collected Writings Volume 14 (Ecclesiastical 3) p 91

 

JohnNelsonDarbyThe word ‘church’ means different things to different people:

  1. The Established Church (in Britain the Church of England)
  2. Those who are enrolled members by baptism etc.
  3. The buildings
  4. What is being built spiritually
  5. The clergy
  6. The congregation
  7. Christendom in general
  8. The body of Christ here
  9. What the Lord will present to Himself without spot or blemish

 

Baptism and the Church

No 2, above (enrolled members), is at the base of Romanism and much of Protestantism.  A person becomes a Christian by being baptised into the church, whether as an adult or a young child.  It is taught that one is saved because one is a member of the church, not that one is a member of the church because one is saved.   Immediately after Pentecost, of course, everybody in the church were true believers.  But soon the likes of Simon Magus got in, and introduced formality and other Jewish sacraments.  They may have been baptised and enjoyed the privileges of the church.  But they did not have eternal life, and were not members of the body of Christ.  As described in the epistle of Jude, they were ‘ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Jude v 4).

To say we are members of Christ by baptism is a falsification of the truth of God.   Alas, many of the early Church fathers, such Justin Martyr, Origen, Clement and later Augustine, espoused this heresy.  They may have been clear as to the Person and divinity of Christ, but they regarded the outward body as the Church, and its privileges was attributed to all who were baptised.  This has continued.  The (Anglican) Book of Common Prayer says ‘baptism wherein I was made a member of Christ, a child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven’.

Much of this confusion comes about by taking what the Lord said literally when in fact He was talking figuratively.  He could say, ‘I am the true vine’ (John 15:1), ‘I am the door’ (John 10:7), etc.  He is not a vine nor a door.  The outward act is confused with true life from God.  Life and membership of Christ are by the Holy Spirit.  We are born of the Spirit, and by one Spirit baptised into one body (see 1 Cor 12:13).

Man fell and was driven away from God.  If there is to be a remedy, there must be new birth.   We are born of God and receive the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.   As we become conscious of the sinfulness of the flesh, and say ‘O wretched man that I am!’ (Rom 7:24),   we need a change of place, position or standing – reconciled to God.  Baptism is that change of place.

We are baptised to His death, buried with Him unto death.  Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, therefore we are alive, risen and quickened together with Him.  Death has totally taken us out of our old place; we have died out of it, as Christ died out of the world  we are alive with Him –   walking in newness of life (see Romans 8).

The Lord’s Supper

There were many sacraments in Judaism.  Some have been carried over into the public church, whereas only two are scriptural.  We have looked at baptism.  The other scriptural sacrament, the supper, demonstrates the unity of the body.  The Lord’s supper is received in common – the assembly or Church participate.  Hence we have (Eph. 4:4-5), ‘one Spirit, one body, one hope of your calling’ (belonging to the Spirit and spiritual persons, and), ‘One Lord, one faith, one baptism’ (the outward profession of faith and the recognition of Christ as Lord).  Again there is a misinterpretation here: partaking of the Lord’s supper involves eating Christ’s flesh and drinking Christ’s blood.  The true meaning of that is lost.  (I hope to address this in a later article – see Address to his Roman Catholic brethren by a minister of the Gospel. and Second Address to his Roman Catholic brethren).

 

What is being Built

See Nos 3 & 4, above.   People confuse what Christ builds with what man builds, physically and metaphorically.   Christ said to Peter in Matthew 16:18 that He would build the Church and that the gates of hell (Satan’s deadly power) would not prevail against it.  Resurrection was the proof of that.  Peter’s confession, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God’  (v. 16), was the rock on which Christ would build his church.  Peter was the first stone in importance, but he was not the builder.  In his epistle Peter addresses other stones coming to Jesus, ‘To whom coming, a living stone disallowed indeed of men but chosen of God and precious, ye also as living stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ’ (1 Peter 2:4).  They come by faith and are built up.  There are no human rules or ordinances; there is no literal building, only faith.  Man’s building has no part in this.  And nothing prevails against it.

Paul amplifies this, developing the doctrine of the Church as the body of Christ.   But Paul does not build either.   He says, ‘Ye are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone; in whom all the building, fitly framed together, groweth unto a holy temple in the Lord’ (Eph 2:21-22).  Only in Corinthians, where it is a matter of responsibility, does he write about our building.   ‘Let every man take heed how he buildeth thereon’ (1 Cor 3:10).  Wood, hay and stubble are not compatible with gold, silver and precious stones.  Man’s work will be burned up; Christ’s work never will.

Puseyism, the high church movement, does not distinguish between the perfect building which Christ builds, where living stones grow to a holy temple in the Lord, and what man has built and continues to build.  The professing church may have a good foundation, but its superstructure is questionable.  It has been built of wood and stubble, which will be burned up in the day of judgment.  Those who corrupt the temple of God dishonour Him by assuming that what they build has His seal of approval – in effect that God sanctions evil – what wickedness!   That is why Paul writes, ‘If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are’ (1 Cor 3:17).

Paul tells us in 2 Tim 2 what our path should be.  But that is another subject[*].   May we distinguish between those admitted by baptism and the body, and between the Church which Christ builds, and the sham that man builds.   All man has put his hand to has failed.  But God has put His hand in first, by the Man who never fails.

 

 

[*] See:

Simplified Darby – Separation from Evil and Christian Unity – Separation from Evil, God’s Principle of Unity

Knowing where we are, and what God wants us to do, in the Confused State of Christendom – The Faith once delivered to the Saints

Bishops – How did they come about?

The concept of local bishops developed in the second century of the church. This led eventually to popery and the subsequent corruption of Christendom. There is no basis for episcopy in scripture, and no evidence of it in apostolic times.

In his paper, ‘Episcopacy: What ground is there in Scripture or History for accounting it an Institution of God?’ (Collected Writings vol. 20 – Eccesiastical 4 – page 307), J N Darby looks back over Christian history, and sees how the early fathers accepted it as an institution. It seemed prudent at the time, maintaining orthodoxy, but it was a human institution whilst claiming to be an institution of God. By the end of the second century, the position of a single person as president of a local assembly was well established, and the church had become organised. How this originate, and who originated it?

JohnNelsonDarby

The concept of local bishops developed in the second century of the church.  This led eventually to popery and the subsequent corruption of Christendom.  There is no basis for episcopy in scripture, and no evidence of it in apostolic times. 

In his paper, ‘Episcopacy: What ground is there in Scripture or History for accounting it an Institution of God?’  (Collected Writings vol. 20 – Eccesiastical 4 – page 307), J N Darby looks back over Christian history, and sees how the early fathers accepted it as an institution.  It seemed prudent at the time, maintaining orthodoxy, but it was a human institution whilst claiming to be an institution of God.  By the end of the second century, the position of a single person as president of a local assembly was well established, and the church had become organised.  How this originate, and who originated it?

Paul established Elders or Overseers

Respect for a position of authority is right, and natural.  But if a bishop becomes an object of veneration, God’s authority is set aside.  Superstition and error replaces the truth that sanctifies.  The prestige associated with the position detracts from the glory of the Lord Himself.

In scripture bishops, overseers and elders (Greek ἐπίσκοπος/episkopos[*]) are the same thing, depending on the translation (Acts 20:17; 1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:7).   Anther word used for an elder in Greek is (πρεσβύτερος/presbuteros*), such as those elders appointed in Acts 14.

There is no evidence that there was a single prelate in churches in Paul’s times.  If there was one anywhere Paul neglected them and charged several to exercise eldership in the church.  Tradition says that Timothy was Bishop of Ephesus, and Titus Bishop of Crete, but this has no basis in scripture.  They were companions of Paul, who sent them to fulfil special services.  Peter, despite being claimed by Roan Catholics to have been Bishop of Rome, had the same view.  He spoke about  ‘the elders which are among you’ (1 Peter 5:1).  The nearest thing we have is James (brother of the Lord?) in Jerusalem.   Whilst he was right in Acts 15, he clearly had a great influence amongst the Jewish Christians, but not always a happy one.  Even then there is no hint of primacy in the Epistle of James.

 

Clement of Rome and Polycarp followed Paul

Likewise, Clement of Rome (d. AD99) knew of no single person leading a church.  He wrote, ‘So preaching everywhere in country and town, they appointed their firstfruits, when they had proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons unto them that should believe.   And this they did in no new fashion; for indeed it had been written concerning bishops and deacons from very ancient times; for thus saith the scripture in a certain place, I will appoint their bishops in righteousness and their deacons in faith’ (1 Clement 42:4-5)[†].

Polycarp of Smyrna (69-155) also did not recognise bishops in the current use of the word.  He referred to one going astray as a presbyter (Polycarp 11:1).   Ignatius of Antioch addressed Polycarp as bishop (Ignatius 1:1), and in his writings used the term as distinct from the elders.  Hence we deduce that recognised local bishops, but not regional or diocesan bishops, as those to whom believers should be subject.

 

Historians and those who supported Bishops

Other late first and early second century writers, such as Barnabas (probably not the Barnabas of scripture) and Hermas, do not refer to bishops.  It was not till the end of the second century their existence as presidents of churches became regarded generally.  Early historians such as Tertullian, Hegessippus and Iranaeus alleged that prelates had existed since apostolic times, making lists of them.  They had no authority for this.

Iranaeus was fighting the gnostics, who taught that Christ was neither God nor Creator.  However he drew on tradition rather than scripture with many historical inaccuracies such as saying that Peter and Paul founded the church in Rome, whereas we know, it was well established before any apostle went there.  He wrote that Paul called over the bishops of the cities around Miletus as well as the elders, and also gave a list of Bishops of Rome up to AD189[‡].  Other historians gave inconstant variants of this list, casting much doubt on their reliability.   Doubtless all of those named from Linus onwards were in Rome at various times, but they did not act as bishops.  Sometimes one would preside over a gathering, sometimes another.

Darby went on to illustrate the confusion by citing many other contradictory writings.  For example, Clement of Alexandria alleged that John, after his release from Patmos, appointed clergy (κλήρων/kleron  – or holders of a lot) in the various churches of Asia.  One went as far as saying that Christ had ordained his brother, James, to be bishop of Jerusalem, having committed His throne on earth to him!

 

Conclusion

Our conclusion must be that scripture refutes episcopy.  If a republic appointed a monarch, it would cease to be a republic.  So the appointment of a single prelate in an assembly changes the nature of the assembly.  This happened in the latter part of the second century and it was not of God.

 

Summary, some footnotes and references to translated texts of Clement and Polycarp by Sosthenes.

June 2016

 

[*] Strong defines ἐπίσκοπος/episkopos/Strong 1985 as (used as an official title in civil life), overseer, supervisor, ruler, especially used with reference to the supervising function exercised by an elder or presbyter of a church or congregation.  Properly an overseer is a man called by God to literally ‘keep an eye on’ His flock (the Church, the body of Christ), i.e. to provide personalised (first hand) care and protection.  It is a masculine noun, derived from ἐπί/epi/Strong 1909on; which intensifies σκοπός/skopos/Strong 4649 watcher’. Pρεσβύτερος/presbuteros/Strong 4245) is defined as a mature man having seasoned judgment or experience.  Whichever word is used it is clear that there are several elders in any assembly.

[†] Despite what the Catholics say, Clement did not claim to be Bishop of Rome.  Of course writings by Clement and other early fathers have no scriptural authority, and indeed may not be in accord with scripture.

[‡] Paul and Peter (to AD68), Linus (68-80), Anencletus (80-92), Clemens (92-101), Evarestus, Alexander, Sixtus, Telesphorus, Hyginus, Pius, Anicetus, Soter, Eleutherus.  Eusebius also gave some dates.  Other historians give variants of this list.

Summary by Sosthenes

Based on   ‘Episcopacy: What ground is there in Scripture or History for accounting it an Institution of God?’  (Collected Writings vol. 20 – Eccesiastical 4 – page 307)

April 2016

The Power, Hopes, Calling, Present Position, and Occupation of the Church

We need to understand what the church really is, and to distinguish between the kingdom and the church. In the kingdom we get the display of God’s power and government, whereas in the church it is union and fellowship

The church is Christ’s representative on earth. By one Spirit we have been baptised into one body, whose Head is at the right hand of God in heaven, united to the members, formed into a body down here on earth by the power of the Holy Spirit. Scripture calls this ‘the church.’

The hope of the church is founded on her relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ in heaven. She is united to her Head there, seated in heaven in Him, waiting to be there physically. The occupation of the church ought to be in constant, incessant reference to her Head. If not, she cannot act for Him. She looks, to her Head, the only source of power, and joins with the Holy Spirit in the cry ‘The Spirit and the bride say, Come’ (Rev 22:17).

A summary of a paper by J.N. Darby entitled:

The Church – What is it? Her Power, Hopes, Calling, Present Position, and Occupation.

J N Darby
John Nelson Darby

Published in Darby’s Collected Writings –  Volume 12 (Evangelical 1) Page 372.

Click here for the original text

 

Summary

We need to understand what the church really is, and to distinguish between the kingdom and the church.  In the kingdom we get the display of God’s power and government, whereas in the church it is union and fellowship

The church is Christ’s representative on earth.  By one Spirit we have been baptised into one body, whose Head is at the right hand of God in heaven, united to the members, formed into a body down here on earth by the power of the Holy Spirit. Scripture calls this ‘the church.’

The hope of the church is founded on her relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ in heaven. She is united to her Head there, seated in heaven in Him, waiting to be there physically.  The occupation of the church ought to be in constant, incessant reference to her Head. If not, she cannot act for Him. She looks, to her Head, the only source of power, and joins with the Holy Spirit in the cry ‘The Spirit and the bride say, Come’ (Rev 22:17).

The Church and the Kingdom

We need to understand what the church really is, and to distinguish between the kingdom and the church. There are endless theories about the question, ‘What is the church?’ Some say it is ‘visible,’ others ‘invisible’; some, that there will be a church by-and-by, but there is none now; that there is no church on earth (there may be churches), but (when all are assembled in heaven) there will be a church.

The church is Christ’s representative on earth – the epistle of Christ (See 2 Cor 3:3). As the tables of stone represented what God demanded from man, so should the church be the revelation of what God is to man in grace and power.

The kingdom is different. In the kingdom we get the display of God’s power and government, whereas in the church it is union and fellowship. We should also distinguish ‘the gospel of the kingdom’ and ‘the kingdom,’ from ‘the gospel’ (in its full scope) and ‘the church.’   Paul preached the kingdom of God – that is very different from Christ’s reign of power on the earth, when Christ will have His bride united to Him in glory. When Paul speaks of his ministry, he distinguishes between the ministry of the gospel of salvation and the ministry of the church.

 

The Kingdom – Past, Present and Future

Up to the time of Samuel, the point of association between the people and God was through the priesthood. But the priests were unfaithful, and then the Lord wrote ‘Ichabod’ upon what had been Israel’s glory. The ark was taken by the Philistines; the priests were slain and the link between God and the people was broken. However God had a plan that Israel should have a king. But Israel set about it the wrong way: they got Saul who did not understand the signs. David did, and was the type of Christ the King.

After King David is introduced, the priesthood ceases to be the habitual link between the people and God. God says, ‘I will raise me up a faithful priest . . . and he shall walk, before mine anointed [not me] for ever’ (1 Sam. 2:35). A royal person is the link between God and the people. When Solomon dedicated the temple (as a Melchisedek priest), the priests could not stand to minister; the glory of the Lord had filled the house of God, the king praised God and blessed the people

Finally the King was presented in humiliation in the Person of Christ. John the Baptist says, ‘Repent ye; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’. (Matt 3:2 – the King coming in judgment). After John was rejected and cast into prison, Christ, the mightier One, takes up the same testimony: ‘From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ (Matt 4:17). Jesus went about Galilee, teaching and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, healing the sick. The power of God was with Him, and it was seen. Then, the King having been rejected, the apostles went out preaching the kingdom. They knew ‘the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven’ (Matt 13:11), and God was with them. At present it is more testimony than power, but there will be a special testimony to the coming of the kingdom before the close of this dispensation.

The kingdom is still to be set up in the Person of Jesus Christ. He must go to a far country to receive a kingdom and return (See Luke 19:11). This is the ‘world to come’ (Heb 2:5, etc.), and the power of Satan will be set aside. Heaven will be in the seat of the kingdom. We will reign with Him there, joint-heirs with Christ, siting on thrones.’

 

Paul’s Ministry as to the Church

There is another aspect to Paul’s ministry which is beyond the reach of dispensations: man is at enmity with God, Jews and Gentiles alike being known only as children of wrath. Paul preached the gospel to every creature under heaven. He was not simply a minister of the gospel; he was a minister of the church to fulfil [complete] the word of God (See Col 1:25).

Paul deduces that there is a body of which Christ is the Head, associated and connected with Him in His headship over all things. How? – ‘By one Spirit are we all baptised into one body,’ (1 Cor. 12:13). God ‘gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all’(Eph 1:23). By one Spirit we have been baptised into one body, and we have the Head and the body united together. Ministries, gifts of healing, etc., are not in heaven, nor are the ‘joints and bands’. It will be in heaven eventually no doubt, but it is now on earth. The Head is at the right hand of God in heaven, united to the members, formed into a body down here on earth by the power of the Holy Spirit. Scripture calls this ‘the church.’

 

There is something in Matt 16:18 that is often overlooked. The Lord says to Peter, ‘Thou art Peter, and upon this rock will I build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven.’ He gives the keys to Peter – the keys of the kingdom, not of the church. The church is that body which the Holy Spirit forms into unity, with the Lord Jesus Christ as Head, He sitting at the right hand of the Father in heaven.

 

The Church – its Power and Responsibility

As to power, In Scripture it is not the power of the church, but the power that works in us – the power of God working in the church. The Head supplies what is needed. ‘Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us’ (Eph 3:20). He nourishes His church according to its need. His powerful operations are however limited by the moral condition of the church. But God is true and cannot act in the power of grace contrary to the moral condition of the church or any individual. He may bear with its state in patience, but God will never sanction publicly what He disapproves of.

When we think of the saving of souls, it is rather the sovereign operation of the Spirit of God through the gospel. But the church is a vessel of power, and miracles testify to the power of Christ as the risen Son of man.

We must understand where we are, before we can get the blessing suited to our being part of the body of Christ. Christ never alters His mind. His grace remains the same, as does what He seeks from the church in responsibility, otherwise faith could not progress. But the ways in which He acts vary. In the days of the apostles the church was adorned with all sorts of miracles. It is different now. Christ will never give up His thoughts about the church; but if we are doing what we feel to be right, He will make sad work of what we have done. ‘He that gathereth not with me scattereth.’ (Matt 12:30).

If Christ gathers, He scatters that which is not gathered in the power of unity with Himself – just like a pack of cards. This may surprise and humble us, but it does not discourage us since we look for God to act. The church’s power is in her weakness and her spirit constant, simple, unmingled dependence.

 

The Hope of the Church

When Christ leaves the Father’s throne to take the church unto Himself, it will form a glorious body in heaven. Now, while He is sitting at the right hand of God, the only thing He owns as the church is the body down here.

The hope of the church is founded on her relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ in heaven. She is united to her Head there, seated in heaven in Him, waiting to be there physically. As the bride of Christ on earth, she is a pilgrim here, and desires to have no more to do with the world than Christ has. She will see things set right in the kingdom, but this is not her hope: her hope is her marriage with the well-known heavenly Bridegroom. That is how Paul knew that the church’s place was to be with Christ there. In 1 Thess 4:17, Paul says, ‘Then shall we ever be with the Lord’, our bodies changed. What follows? Nothing! A great many things may be happening now, but the church’s hope is to be with Him and like Him, for she will see Him as He is.

We have a heavenly calling, but that does not in itself convey the thought of the church. We must not confuse what we are as members of the church with the church itself. Many things are true of the members that do not apply to the church as a distinct body. As individuals, we are called, and look to be caught up into heaven; we have a heavenly portion as the brethren of Christ, even if we do not know that we are the body and bride of Christ. We are builded together for the habitation of God through the Spirit (Eph 2:22): that is the calling of the church down here.

As to our present position and occupation, one thing is very different from the early church. When the Spirit of God was working in the beginning of the gospel, the testimony had great power, producing a substantial result – a visible, identifiable gathering. There is nothing like this. The sheep have been scattered; the camp has gone wrong. As a result there are all sorts of opinions. Even unity involves separation from evil (See Darby’s Separation from Evil, God’s Principle of Unity). I must look to Christ as the Centre of truth. If my soul is not prepared to look to Him, and gather with Him, I shall be cast into the uncertain condition of the differing opinions of every saint I meet. If Christ is our common object, there will be a coalescing power. I find the church of God in a unity which attaches itself to Christ alone, as the sole centre.

The occupation of the church ought to be in constant, incessant reference to her Head. If not, she cannot act for Him. She must get beyond the crowd of Satan’s power, to the Head, the only source of power. Then she can join in the cry ‘The Spirit and the bride say, Come’ (Rev 22:17). So should the church has its own light, the light of the outside being shut .out

 

Conclusion

We should get near enough to Christ to enjoy Him, and to know Him truly, and to gather up all that is like Him. If not separated by affection from the world, we shall be separated by discipline in the world. He will vex our souls to get us separate, ‘Because thou servedst not Jehovah thy God with joyfulness, and with gladness of heart . . . therefore thou shalt serve thine enemies which Jehovah thy God shall send against thee’ (Deut 28:47 – Darby).

We cry to God for the state of the Church

Up till now the Roman Catholic church, despite its idolatry, human organisation and wrong teaching, stood for some things that were right – upholding marriage, condemning homosexual activity etc. Protestantism had already bowed to the times. Now even Catholicism is following suit

Up till now the Roman Catholic church, despite its idolatry, human organisation and wrong teaching, stood for some things that were right – upholding marriage, condemning homosexual activity etc.  Protestantism had already bowed to the times.  Now even Catholicism is following suit.  Looking at prophecy, that is not surprising.  Let there be a call – not to change the system – but for true hearts to follow Jesus ‘outside the camp’

A Brief Outline of the Books of the Bible – Timothy

The epistles to Timothy and Titus are not addressed to churches, nor were they to be communicated to the churches as such. Of course the church of God has them, guiding us as to the individual conduct which is an unceasing obligation for Christians.

Outline of Bible cover1 Timothy

The epistles to Timothy and Titus are not addressed to churches, nor were they to be communicated to the churches as such. Of course the church of God has them, guiding us as to the individual conduct which is an unceasing obligation for Christians.

Timothy had been charged insist on sound doctrine. However he has to draw attention as to the right order in the church. The first letter gives us the order of the church under normal conditions; 2 Timothy, shows us the path of faith when things are abnormal – in disorder.

You have in 1 Timothy 3:15 the principle of Timothy’s conduct.

 

2 Timothy

In 2 Timothy Paul was at the close of his career, and though the church had fallen into disorder, there is no other epistle in which he insists so much on the unfailing courage and energy of the saints. He calls upon them to endure the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God. We do not have the outward church connected with the body of Christ, but simply individual piety and devotedness wherever he could find it.

Chapter 2:18-22 is indicative of the tone of the instruction as regards the state of the church. The faith of some had been overthrown, so he refers first to the sure foundation of God, the Lord knowing them that are His. Whoever names the name of the Lord is to depart from iniquity. That is individual responsibility. Then he takes the great house as the analogy of the church publicly, showing that in such there are vessels to dishonour, and to be a vessel to honour, a man has to purge himself from these. Then he is to follow righteousness, etc., with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. This distinguishes those who are really saints. Paul associates himself with them, and warns of perilous times in the last days – a form of godliness denying the power. He insists, besides his personal authority, upon the known scriptures as a child might read them, and asserts that they are sufficient to make us wise unto salvation, through faith in Christ Jesus. They have been given by inspiration of God, and are adequate to make the man of God perfect [or complete, fit], thoroughly prepared for undertaking all good works.

 

Originally by JND.   Lightly edited by Sosthenes,  September 2014

– Se A Brief Outline of the Books of the Bible  for the original